Authors: Marie Connolly and Louise Harms
Publisher: Cambridge University Press Pages 214
The relationship between theory and practice within social-work practice and social-work education has been the subject of much debate over many decades. The unhelpful distinctions between theory as something that students and academics think about, and practice being something that happens "in the real world" have plagued social work for far too long. Although there is now a wide range of accessible textbooks that cover many of the theories and practice models within social work, this is certainly one of the most comprehensive and yet also one of the more accessible texts.
The book's short, manageable chunks of text focusing on particular issues should not be underestimated, as they explore pertinent themes or concepts in more depth than might be expected in what is overall a fairly short book. Although this may prove frustrating for those who prefer depth over breadth, the authors nevertheless succeed in covering a huge amount of material in a manageable way. I was delighted to note that every time I read a section and felt a "yes, but..." thought emerging, that thought would be addressed in the next short section. In particular, it was great to see reference made to chaos and complexity theories, as well as reference to recent developments in neuroscience.
So what is different about this theory book? First, the classification of theories into "onion peeling", "mountain moving" and "faulty engine" theories is certainly unique and arguably catchy. However, this book does much more than reclassify the usual range of theories covered in a social-work text. The authors helpfully identify the significance of the "social work lens" through which theories and issues are seen and, critically, they place great importance on the role of reflection and reflexivity in relating theory to practice. A great deal of attention is given to the conditions for effective social work and the importance of relationship-based practice as a foundation even for the less consensual elements of social-work practice. The reader's attention is helpfully drawn to critiques of theories and also to difficulties in relating particular aspects of theories in particular practice contexts. Furthermore, the authors identify the challenges associated with unconscious eclecticism when practitioners adopt a "pick and mix" approach to theory selection.
Critical for me was the recognition that a strong theoretical base is crucial for the development and standing of the profession. Even where theories are drawn from other disciplines, the unique social-work "lens" results in different understandings and applications. I would have preferred to see a little more content that draws on service user/carer knowledge and the relationship between that more recent "movement" and more traditional theoretical perspectives, and possibly a little more on the practice-to-theory (as opposed to theory-practice) relationship, but this is a refreshingly good read that covers impressive ground in an accessible way.
Who is it for? Social work undergraduates and postgraduate students who do not have a social-science background.
Presentation: Very clear and accessible.
Would you recommend it? Yes.